the connection between sleep and the liver

Man holding pillowNaturmend’s Holistic Nutritionist Tracy Thiessen shares her own personal story about the connection between sleep and the liver she has recently made this spring.

Since being woken up at the same time every night , Tracy suspected her body was trying to tell her something. By taking  a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) approach to observing the connections between the body’s organ systems and sleep cycles, she was able to connect the dots and draw some conclusions with what her body’s messages were communicating to her. 

What is the connection between sleep and the liver?

Lately I have been waking up at the same time every night between 1am and 3am, but most often it is 1:30am.  At first I didn’t think much about it, but after several nights of consistently waking up at the same time, I began to think that there had to be a reason why this was happening – and I was longing to be able to sleep through the night.

The last year or two I have been working on being in tune with my body and listening to its messages.  Believe it or not, our bodies are continuously communicating with us whether or not we choose to acknowledge this. After becoming more aware of these signals, I knew my body was saying something I needed to listen to. So I started digging deeper with the connection between sleep and the liver.

As I casually mentioned this to my colleagues, the common response I was getting was “that’s liver time”.  Unbeknownst to me, each organ has a time of the day/night where it does its thing. I began to dig a bit deeper into sleep cycles to find out what is really going on.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a Chinese “meridian clock” is used to show the times of day when each organ system is most active.

This is what it says:

 1am-3am – Liver

3am-5am – Lungs

5am-7am– Large intestines

7am-9am – Stomach

9am-11am – Spleen & pancreas

11am- 1pm – Heart & mind

1pm-3pm – Small intestine

3pm – 5pm – Bladder

5pm -7 pm – Kidneys

7pm – 9pm – Pericardium

9pm- 11pm – Triple heater (related to metabolism)

11pm- 1am – Gallbladder

Based on this clock, the time I was waking up was indeed liver time!  This had me thinking about what is going on with my liver…

From an emotional standpoint, the liver is associated with the emotions anger, frustration and resentment (to name a few).  Have I been angry lately? Feeling some resentment? I retraced my life in the last month and found some places where emotions may be lingering.  Was that possibly contributing to my 1:30am wake up?

In my quest, I also found out that the liver is associated with spring time, which, despite the snow in Calgary, has creeped up on us. Coincidence? Maybe it was time to support my liver and deal with some emotions.

Everything started to fit together and the question to my interrupted sleep was slowly being answered.

How fitting also, that as we enter in to spring, this a common time to consider cleansing and detoxification. It only makes sense that our livers need to cleanse during this time. I believe we need to be supporting our liver at all times, but especially in the spring time to remove some built up congestion.

As we become aware that the subtle hints from our bodies can actually mean something, (and when we pay attention), we can become more in tune with the communication lines between our mind and body.  Once we begin listening, the body’s clues can be very helpful and insightful to us.

There may not be anything going on with your liver, gall bladder or stomach for that matter. But there are many ways we can support the liver and our sleep habits.

Some helpful tips for supporting your liver and a good nights rest are:

  • Drinking lemon water in the morning
  • Sip on dandelion root tea throughout the day
  • Choose foods from the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) for their liver supporting properties
  • Try your best to express emotion in a healthy way, rather than suppress it
  • Let dinner be your lightest meal of the day
  • Try to have your last meal or snack approximately 2 hours before bed
  • Turn off your phone, computer or Ipad for at least one hour before bed time. Use this time instead for a good book, journaling, reflection or meditation
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar after 3 pm.
  • Practice gentle yoga throughout the day
  • Make time for you, and what you enjoy doing.

Photo of TracyTracy Thiessen is a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant, C.H.N.C.™.  Her interest in nutrition started at a young age, when she learned how to prepare meals but also began to question what was in the foods she ate.  Her curiosity and interest continued after seeing major improvements in her own health after modifying her diet and altering her lifestyle, which led her to study Nutrition.





36 Responses to “the connection between sleep and the liver”

    • Nice and useful article. I have been waking up regularly for sometime now between 2 and 3 AM. No sleep there after. Of course I am a worried and dejected man (senior citizen). Even previously longtime back I had some issues with my liver. Thank you very much for the article

  1. Robyn hall

    Thank you for your article. I have had sleep issues for a few years, since menopause. Several months ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I am waking up in the night, lately at 1:30, it is quite frustrating. I find the connection between the liver and sleep fascinating. I do practice good sleep hygiene . I try to walk and do yoga. I go to an acupuncturist, she has been working more on my joint and body pain. I am waiting for results from a saliva test to find out my cortisol levels. Is there anything else I can do to help my liver and break this cycle. I am taking prometrium, and ortho sleep at night, I may start cortisol manager again. Any suggestions are really appreciated.

    • Madison Isenor

      Hi Robyn, thank you for your comment on this blog. It sounds like you are doing a lot of the right things for your health and wellness. Unfortunately without having an in-depth look at your case we can’t necessarily recommend very much. If it’s possible for you we would encourage you to come in and book an appointment so we can tailor our suggestions to your symptoms, supplements and case.

      Hope this helps! Thanks for your support!

  2. NancyNurse

    Gosh, I have horrific insomnia for years now. I wake up at ALL times of the night; mostly due to nocturia, but there ARE two times that always seems to occur and that is 1:30am and 3am… 3am is more predominant. I have been drinking Dandelion Root tea and I eat a plant-based diet; I refrain from caffeine.. never go to doctors.

    And, the usual I suppose: Fibro, CFS, EBV. As a student nurse, we all contracted mono… that was over 50 years ago however.

    What else can I do?

    Many thanks,


    • Madison Isenor

      Hi Nancy! Are you in Calgary? We are hosting a free insomnia seminar this Thursday, Dec 1 at 630pm which would likely be quite useful for you. Alternatively, we offer free 15 min meet and greets if you’d like to discuss your symptoms with a naturopathic doctor at our clinic. Feel free to call us at 403-457-3205 to book. Thanks!

  3. Sally Gecks

    Nancy, I used to experience terrible sleep patterns too. I would wake up sometimes every hour or every 20 minutes. It was exhausting! I had rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, IBS, chronic migraine, CRPS, DDD, ADD, DID and a bunch of other illnesses. I had to use a CPAP machine too. Since I have been healed of so much emotional trauma from my childhood, I have seen most of these illnesses resolve. My sleep is now really good and I don’t have to use the CPAP anymore. I am amazed! I hope you find what helps you!

    • Lynn Stewart

      Hi , I’ve just come across this mention about your rheumatoid arthritis and I am suffering the same. You mentioned you HAD it. Has it gone away? Thank you. lynn

  4. Kathy Cioppa

    Interesting article…I have had insomnia since my daughter began struggling with a chronic pain issue at age 12 (she is now 30!) I wake up at 2:02 am, or within minutes of that time…don’t have to go to the bathroom, just wake up, suddenly and wide awake! Interestingly, I was diagnosed with hundreds of carcinoid tumors in my liver 8 years ago. I receive a shot each mont to keep them small, but when they do grow to a certain size, I need surgery to remove them (2 surgeries so far). Although I was diagnosed 8 years ago, this was when one of them was very large…they said I’d had them for years. So perhaps that’s why my insomnia began, and it was just coincidence that my daughter’s pain began then as well. I do the warm lemon water each morning. I usually drink green tea. It’s time to work on my diet and exercise once again, as I have not been that great about it this past year.

  5. I lost my husband of 49 yrs, 2 yrs ago. I lost my dog 4 months ago. I have a sleeping problem. I do use my phone for FB and emails or games everynight. I try not to, but I’m so lonely. I’m 72, in a wheelchair with hip and nerve damage problems. The most my PT had me walk was 70 feet. I had to sit down. I’m relatively healthy. I am morbidly obese. I’m on BP rx and anxiety rx. I have Fibro and RA. Take tramadol and ex excedrin. I live alone. My kids take me where I need to be…dr, ot , shopping etc. I have no car. I do drive. Low income and worry every month. Don’t excercise. No motivation except when I have pt. I’m lonely and depressed all the timr. I watch tv. Not a reader. I feel useless. I have loving kids but only see them 2x week. No friends except from my apartment. Don’t go anywhere except with my kids. How do I get myself motivated to lose weigjt, be more active and turn myself around?

  6. Very interesting article. I wake up 2 hours after I go to sleep pretty much every night. Its very frustrating. I go to bed quite early, any time between 830 and 10. Would this be my liver or gallbladder?

  7. Patricia Antolic

    I just found your article at (2:35 a.m.). My usual time to be on the computer. For 5 months I worked a part time job that I had to be there to start work at 5. It was very easy for me to get up at 3-4 in the morning. I am now wondering if my sleep habits are about what you are talking about here. I do have alot of anger and resentment and have been seeing a talk therapist for about 5 years. It has helped in at least it has helped me keep from doing something drastic. My husband of 40 years had a stroke about 8 years ago and became disabled. His diabetes, which he ignored caused this. Very luckily he can walk, talk, drive small amounts. But, he has become disabled in his head. He refuses to do anything. Sleeps till almost noon every day and then sits and sleeps in a chair till around 4 in the afternoon. He does not have an interest in doing anything. Does not read, do hobbies, etc. Just sits and sleeps. I am 4 years older than he is and has luck would have it very active and healthy. I do have my issues but for the most part try to ignore them. I am 74, and want to live and not just be here. Thanks for the article. Gives me something to think about.

  8. Charul

    Had the same problem a couple of years back. Have always been a good sleeper. Started taking liv52 , a liver tonic. Sleeping soundly through the night now.

  9. Solid read, kudos…I’m reading your article as research for a guide on our blog and wanted to share what we have so far. Sleep is the single most under-appreciated aspect of our well-being. We’re working on a roundup and a full guide on how sleep deprivation makes the liver more vulnerable to oxidative stress and being damaged by lipid accumulation.

    People don’t understand sleep well enough, heck, medicine understand what happens during sleep, but not the reason why we sleep in the first place.

    Anyway, as we gathering info for our post, a pattern is merging and the connection is clear and they confirm the study 2008 study. Most of the damage that sleep deprivation causes is through increased oxidative stress and phospholipid damage, which in turn, ravages our system causing a sleuth of metabolic disturbances.

  10. I’ve woken up around 2 or 3am for 20 years now. I presumed it was from having 5 children and I just got used to waking to feed them. I do have conditions that are mentioned in other comments. Drink beer some. So lemon water in the morning. I also have to use the bathroom quite often. Problems with feeling down (lost mother, father, auntie, great aunt, and beloved friend, not to mention the cat I loved most,my Joe in the last 2 years) I thought I was doing okay getting on. Then my husband of 17 years left. 2nd one. I still have a 19 year old with a seizure disorder and an 11 year old son who is ADHD and autistic but VERY intelligent (savant). I’m 57 and you can bet I’m very frustrated and exhausted, mentally and physically. Is lemon water and broccoli the only thing you would recommend for my situation?

  11. I was given multiple antibiotics/steroids against my will for an eczema/bacterial infection on my finger. This led to full blown rash on my body for the past 6 weeks. I have always been a sound sleeper until the maddening rash became a problem. My arms and legs are healing pretty well but my torso is still covered with thick dry angry itchy painful red blotches. I stopped all antibiotics after 4 days but still my body has a hard time resolving these rashes. I wake up between 11 – 1 a.m, 3 am, 5 am just about every day trying to deal with my itch. What can I do about this? You talk about the liver and other organs – but how can I really address this – do I work the points on the meridian? I am in Houston

    • Madison Isenor

      Hi there! Best to see a local doctor or naturopathic doctor. We are located in Calgary, AB Canada so would be difficult for us to treat and provide recommendations from afar. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  12. Laurice

    Hi, may not be related to insomnia but just wanted to know if my night shift work is affecting my liver since I sleep during the day and work at night. Appreciate any feedback since I am deciding if I will move back to morning shift.

    • Madison Isenor

      Hi Laurice! Shift work in general can throw your body’s natural rhythm and sleep pattern off. Best to talk with your medical doctor or local health practitioner (Naturopathic doctor or other) about liver function. We are located in Calgary, Alberta Canada if you wanted to do a free 15 min consult with one of our Naturopathic Doctors as well. Thanks!

    • I have read numerous articles & listened to several masterclasses that all said: people that work shift work, anywhere from 11:00pm-7:00am, it is definitely affecting their livers because they never sleep during the hours of 1:00am-3:00am when their livers are detoxifying & cleansing..

  13. Hi ive been looking into this for my 18mnth old son for the last 2 mnths every night he wakes between 1 and 3am and will be awake anywhere between 3 to 4 hours we have tried every single thing possible . He lays awake talking and playing if hes next to us but will cry for company if hes in his own bed he will go back to sleep eventually but is up for the day no matter what sleep he has had during the night at about 6 630 am. We are baffled as to what is going on with him and ive just started looking into Chinese medicine. Any advise would be great desperate parents here

  14. Kevin ong

    Hi how to detox liver if you are working nightshift and i had bought a liver detox supplement is it possible or still useful if i took it after work which is in the morning and go to bed

  15. Hi there, great article. I have been drinking a cleansinv tea, ( with dandelion, DETOX TEA), eating shilajit for heavy metals, and eating clay and charcoal twice a day. Paired with raw fruits and vegatables all day, and a warm nice meal in the evening. ( Lymph cleanse is my focus, with metal removal) I have been waking up with insomnia at liver time, is it my liver overloaded? Or should I stop the tea earlier? Or do liver detox at the same time? Thanks, Omra

    • Jen Ruel

      Hello Omra,
      We are unfortunately unable to give specific advice without having more information about the case and health history. If you would like to book in for a consultation with one of our Naturopathic Doctors, please contact us directly. Thank you!

  16. David Tobey

    Hi, so I have been working nights for a while, then lately CV-19 not working but still staying up to 1:30-3. My ears (R+) are ringing fairly loudly, I have had sleep apnea 4-5 hrs a night, my US Dr says I have high BP, he tried to get me to take licinopril, it made my heart pound in my chest, middle ear imbalanced/body imbalanced, foggy memory, I stopped taking it, I am convinced it is all because of sleep deprivation, being awake between 23:00 GB and 03:00 Liv, It also (-) affects my acid reflux and neuralgia on my R forward quadrant of my head from Ophthalmic branch of the Trigeminal nerve.

    So to sleep by 23:00 latest and everyone settles down

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